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The Pragyan Blog

SciTech Bulletin 4.5

Your monthly dose of the latest in science and technology

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.”

— Louis Pasteur

This month’s SciTech Bulletin brings to you the latest developments in genetics, physics and electronics. Read on to find out more!

An interesting discovery in earth’s depths

The more we think we know about oceans, the more wrong we are. Source: TechnologyNetworks.com

The oceans are still a source of wonder and bewilderment to humans, and somehow we have more information about things off our planet than within its depths. This tidbit of news is only going to prove that comment.

A group of scientists, very recently, have identified fin whales as a completely different subspecies than they were thought to be, initially. The point to note here, is that these creatures are the largest and most conspicuous animals to dwell in the ocean, and only now, are we actually starting to learn more about them.

Granted, it’s impossible to fit them in laboratories (considering their sizes, of course), so this is an extremely welcoming discovery nonetheless. This study is a good step forward in the fields of marine taxonomy, and we are only now exploring the broader genetic avenues that dolphins and whales could fall in. This is also an interesting road-sign indicating the more expansive exploration of our planet’s deepest corners.

They obtained their genetic samples from the South West Fisheries Science Center (in the USA), and from museums and other similar collections.

Whales were (and still are, to a lesser extent) hunted for a good portion of the 20th century, both as game and for meat. A large number of these species were left endangered, and only recently have the study of these mammals taken a front seat. If studying these creatures can warrant their safety and survivability on our planet, then it falls into our hands to support such research in the future.

Read more at: https://bit.ly/2PNboRB

New light with intrinsic chirality

Scientists breakthrough and find a new way to ‘throw light’ on the mysteries of chemistry and biology. Source: phys.org

Molecules have mirror twins like the pair of hands we possess. Though, such twins look similar, some of the properties of the twin molecules can be very different. In biology, certain molecules can cure diseases while their twin counterparts can prove to be lethal. Light has, for long, been an effective method to distinguish between these chiral molecules. But the use of light has some pitfalls, and they have been addressed recently with a crucial breakthrough.

The oscillations of light’s electromagnetic waves can draw chiral helixes, but the helix pitch is about a thousand times bigger than the size of the molecule, which leads to the minute molecules not feeling the chirality of the light at all. Scientists have managed to synthesize a new form of light that draws a chiral structure at every point in space, such that one enantiomer will interact and emit bright light while the opposite enantiomer might not interact with it all.

This is expected to have a lot of applications in biology and chemistry. One could now monitor chiral chemical reactions in real time or detect the change in the molecules’ handedness. A lapse in the detection of enantiomers can be fatal in many cases, and this innovation is a step forward in ensuring that such mistakes are kept to a minimum. Biology and Chemistry are seeing greater significance in all facets of life, and scientists around the world are working tirelessly to ensure their evolution to better serve the ecosystem.

Read more at https://bit.ly/2N8bvVK

Paper Phone

It is like e-ink…without the “e”. Source: Experiments with Google

In a bid to promote and nurture digital well-being, Google Special Projects released an obscure cellphone; a piece of paper. It is one of the six “digital well-being experiments” that Experiments With Google launched, to “help people find a better balance with technology”.

It takes away everything that a smartphone physically consists of, and aims to present the bare essentials on a printable sheet of paper. The app allows users to give up their phone for an entire day by putting any information needed — such as contact details, map directions and meetings — into a printable, phone-sized booklet. It ultimately seeks to aid one’s pursuit of a true digital detox; one day at a time.

Paper Phone is an experimental open source Android app, whose code is available on Github for people to play with, adapt and evolve.

The other initiatives, like Desert Island, Unlock Clock, etc.by Google Creative Lab are other apps for your smartphone that aid to curb one’s addiction. While not as drastic as replacing a phone in entirety, they provide either a statistical or a motivational approach to getting one off of their cell phone.

While it is ironic that the release of the Paper Phone comes mere weeks after the launch of their update to the Pixel series of smartphones, the move is nevertheless commendable. In an era where smartphone addiction is at an all-time high, it is reassuring to see a major tech giant care.

To learn more, visit: https://bit.ly/2JCA62P

Self-swarming robotic blocks

Researches at MIT give “building blocks” a whole new dimension. Source: MIT News

Imagine building whatever you want just by throwing a few blocks which can assemble themselves into the desired shape - something like Hiro’s microbots in the movie Big Hero 6. Developed by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), M-Block 2.0 are tiny robotic blocks that can interact with each other. With a potential to present furtive abilities for performing complicated tasks, these robots can climb over and around one another, leap through the air and roll across the ground.

Due to small size and elementary shape, they can be proven as the most robust option in comparison with any other robotic device with arms and appendages attached to it. These tiny cubes move about using “inertial forces” — the mechanism on which M-Blocks are based. Every module has six faces. Lying on each face, it can move in four directions. Consequently, every module has 24 different movement directions. Keeping physical hurdles at bay, the next biggest obstacle was to build reliable communication between the neighbouring blocks. The barcode like system enables the robots to sense the identity and face of other blocks they are connected to.

Successfully testing the autonomous fleet of 16 blocks for simple behaviors like forming a line, following arrows or tracking light, the team envisions a big reality — bigger swarms with capabilities to create stronger structures. Apart from inspection and rescue, the technology can be applied in gaming, manufacturing and health care also.

For further reading visit: https://bit.ly/2JHu01c

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